Once we reached the back door, I sent Micah inside and Benji and I sat down on the steps to talk. It took a few minutes of coaxing. Then–
“Mom, I don’t have any friends.”
I was startled. “Why? What happened today?”
Pause. “I’m just really so sad.”
“What made you really so sad?”
“No one played with me today.”
I saw his tears and my heart plunged. This wasn’t the first time he’d come home with this news.
“No one? What about Micah?”
“No! He was playing with someone else.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” I paused for a moment, trying to understand the situation. “Did you ask anyone to play with you?”
“Well, I did! I went up and tried to hug [a classmate] but she told me to go away!”
“I’m just really so sad!”
My chest felt tight; it throbbed with the weight of his pain. I tried to hug him. He was stiff but he let me put my arm around him.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Maybe you can ask someone to play with you tomorrow.”
He shrugged of my arm and my suggestion. “I don’t have any friends.”
He tried to explain. “The kids…the kids in my class–they don’t like it. They don’t like it when–when I–they say I get too close–I get too close to them.”
I grasped at the pieces he was offering me, trying to put together the picture. I know that Benji lacks self-awareness of personal space and that he often seeks sensory input by trying to play in a manner that some children consider rough.
Or sometimes he tries to hug people when they aren’t expecting or wanting a hug. Finally, when he gets frustrated or needs his own space, he will scream repeatedly (“That’s my “Thunderdrum” dragon call!”).
I was floundering. I was scrambling for a solution, any wisdom I could impart, but it was like grasping at smoke.
We have talked about being a good friend, about asking people to play and or asking to join in a game.
We have talked about how getting inside someone’s “bubble” makes them uncomfortable.
We have talked about asking for hugs.
We have talked–again and again–about how screaming is not a “friendly noise,” how it’s not a good way to express himself, and that if he needs or wants something, he needed to use words and talk about it.
I could repeat all this advice but I knew that it wouldn’t do any good right now.
He didn’t need advice or solutions.
He just needed me to be with him.
So I bit back all the advice that I had already repeated a thousand times before and we just sat and felt sad together.
And that is hard. It is really so hard…because I want to FIX IT. I want to make the other kids be his friend, to convince them of what a cool kid Benji is, of how he is funny, caring, creative, and fun.
But I can’t fix this: I may be able to make other kids play with him but I can’t make them be his friend.
I can cheer him on in his journey; I can offer direction. But I can’t walk this path for him.
And that’s really so hard.